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Asian Pacific Americans and Section 21 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992.

The reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act included what has commonly known as Section 21. Essentially, Section 21 mandates outreach and inclusion of persons from minority ethnic groups into the state-federal vocational rehabilitation (VR) program and was due in part to congressional findings as wen as other data suggesting differential participation of minority ethnic populations in the VR program (Ross & Biggi, 1986; Dziekan & Okocha, 1993; GAO, 1993). Bobbie Atkins, Ph.D., coordinator of a consortium of Rehabilitation Continuing Education Programs (RCEP's) working on Section 21 efforts, describes the goals of Section 21 as to "provide and enhance equal access to quality services and outcomes within the public rehabilitation programs for individuals representing cultural diversity" and to "expand career development for individuals in rehabilitation representing cultural diversity." Dr. Atkins points out that the target groups "include Afro-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders" (1994).

Why are Asian Pacific

Americans Included?

"Asian Pacific Americans" were included in the language of the amendments although specific rationale for their inclusion was not provided. In part, this is because very little data have been available regarding disability within the Asian Pacific American population. Current estimates probably do not accurately reflect the reality of disability incidence or prevalence among the Asian Pacific population (Yang, et al., 1994). While prevailing opinion and evidence seem to suggest lower incidence and prevalence (McNeil, 1994) of disabilities among the Asian Pacific American population, the fact that disabilities are linked to poverty status and occupation would also suggest that some Asian Pacific American ethnic groups, because of their higher rates of poverty and representation in service occupations, may have higher incidence and prevalence rates than the majority population.

These variances can be traced in part to the fact that the category, "Asian Pacific Islander," was an artificial classification put into effect by Office of Management and Budget Statistical Directive 15 in 1977 (Wright, 1994). In reality, there is no one group or person that is Asian Pacific American, as opposed to Korean American, Samoan American, or Vietnamese American, which have their basis with a particular country or nation of origin. Because of the many ethnic groups categorized as Asian Pacific under Directive 15 and the usual practice of lumping all of them into an aggregate category, significant differences may be masked. These include differences not only related to each of the particular ethnic groups but to differences related to how long an individual has been in the United States, as well as other acculturation variables.

Who are Asian Pacific


Asian Pacific Americans are the fastest growing population in the United States today, with the primary growth of the last decade due to immigration. From approximately 1.5 percent of the U.S. population in 1980, the Asian Pacific American population grew to comprise almost 3 percent in 1990, for a growth rate of more than 100 percent. While the majority of Asian Pacific Americans live in the five states of California, Hawaii, New York, Illinois, and Texas, Asian Pacific Americans are found in all areas of the country and are projected to increase to more than 10 percent of the total U.S. population by 2050. This is particularly important for the VR program, as Asian Pacific Americans will become increasingly a part of the clientele for the state-federal VR system.

Why is so Little Known About

Asian Pacific Americans?

There are probably many, reasons why there is limited understanding of Asian Pacific populations and the incidence and prevalence of disability among them. This overview will not provide a comprehensive coverage; hopefully, readers will look further for other resources and information.

One of the principal reasons for the limited information has been the perpetuation of the model minority myth that Asian Pacific Americans have no problems because they have literally made it in American society and, therefore, have no need for services. Time and again, media coverage has often called attention to characteristics such as income levels and educational achievement without full explanation of what those characteristics represent. The historical reliance on support systems internal to their ethnic community forced upon them as a result of anti-asian sentiments has also given rise to the feeling that there is no need for services by external providers. Finally, disability has not been a priority concern with many Asian Pacific families adhering to cultural and religious values that view the occurrence of disability to be a reflection of their own failure and shame.

Asian Pacific Americans may have similar physical characteristics, such as dark hair and golden pigmentation of the skin, but come from groups separated by differences in history, customs, values, and religion. Composed of many distinct groups (Table 1) and differing experiences in the United States, the aggregate categorization may not only distort but present a perspective that is false. It is important to reiterate that there is no one monolithic group nor is there any one characteristic that can be described as Asian Pacific American.

Table 1
Asian Pacific Islander

Chinese Hawaiian
Filipino Samoan
Japanese Guamanian
Asian Indian Carolinian
Korean Fijian
Vietnamese Kosraean
Cambodian Melanesian
Hmong Micronesian
Laotian Northern Mariana Islander
Thai Palauan
Bangladeshi Papa New Guinean
Bhutanese Ponapean (Pohnpeian)
Borneo Polynesian
Celebesian Solomon Islander
Ceram Tahitian
Indochinese Tarawa Islander
Indonesian Tongan
IwoJiman Trukese (Chuukese)
Javanese Yapese
Sri Lankan

There are major differences among these various groups and their history in the United States along with why their initial migration occurred. Some of the ethnic groups under the general rubric of Asian Pacific American have a history of antagonism and war with each other and some countries in Asia continue to have acrimonious relationships with each other. In the United States, it has only been since the 1970's that individuals from the different ethnic groups within the Asian Pacific American community, recognizing the power of numbers, have begun to work together in pan-asian ways.

Recent immigrants may be of refugee status, bringing along the baggage of having spent time in holding locations with poor health and existing disability. These may be coupled with the stress of relocation and lack of a support system. Refugees who were involved with agricultural pursuits in their native country have difficulty transferring their skills in the United States (Ying, 1994). On the other hand, there are those groups that may be three to four generations away from when their great grandparents immigrated and who may have achieved success in education and occupation. Another ethnic group considered to be part of the Asian Pacific American rubric is the Asian Indian and other peoples from South Asia, with their widely disparate history and immigration experience. Also lumped into the Asian Pacific category are people from the Pacific islands who have another different history and culture. Add to these the Native Hawaiians who mirror the experiences of Native Americans in having their sovereignty removed and it is not difficult to see the complexity of the Asian Pacific American categorization.

Why are Asian Pacific Americans

a Misunderstood Group?

For the most part, Asian Pacific Americans have been silent in voicing their needs in public and have relied on their internal communities to deal with their forced isolation from the larger majority. Chinatowns and Japanese and Korea towns arose as attempts to deal with community issues following anti-Asian activity by the majority society. Asian Pacific Americans are also misunderstood because of some of the achievements of segments of their population. The inability of many of the majority to "tell us apart" only adds to the thinking that "we are all alike." For example, there is the sometimes prevailing myth that Asian Pacific Americans do not experience discrimination. History, of course, provides a different perspective. As the only ethnic population to be specifically excluded by federal legislation and to be incarcerated during wartime, Asian Pacific Americans continue to experience discrimination as they become inextricably linked to Asia because of their physical characteristics. Several notable violent acts against Asian Pacific Americans were perpetrated ostensibly because of this and because they were perceived as foreigners taking what the perpetrators considered to be American jobs.

Communication styles have also contributed to misunderstanding between Asian Pacific Americans and others. Strong emotional confrontations are not generally as well accepted with Asian cultures and the desire is to keep things on an even keel. Respect for those who are older and who are in positions of authority may keep an individual with disability from disclosing all that may be helpful to a rehabilitation professional. That the individual is seen as only a part of the larger familial structure may limit disclosure of difficulties within the family. Not only does this bring about misunderstanding, but also a feeling that the individual or family does not desire any help or assistance.

Have Asian Pacific Americans

Made it?

One of the primary indicators often used to demonstrate the "success" of Asian Pacific Americans has been their household incomes, which have been consistently higher than other minority populations and in certain instances exceed even the majority population. However, Ong and Hee (1994) argue that it "is impossible to distill the economic status of Asian Pacific Americans into a single statistic." Ong and Hee further suggest that even with very high educational achievements, the average income of Asian Pacific Americans remains below that of the majority non-Hispanic white population. Further, "For every Asian Pacific American household with an annual income of $75,000 or more there is roughly another with an annual income below $10,000." In addition, higher average household income is often a reflection of larger numbers of the family being earners rather than higher per capita income.

Unquestionably, one reason for the higher average household income is the emphasis placed on education by Asian Pacific Americans and their concomitant educational achievements. The 1990 census reported that 37 percent of all Asian Pacific Americans 25 years of age and over had at least a bachelor's degree in contrast to 22 percent for non-hispanic whites. It is also important to note that in spite of the high educational attainment of some Asian Pacific Americans, their salaries are not always commensurate with that educational attainment. For example, the average Asian Pacific American male who works full time, year round, earns about 10 percent less than white males, and for the West the difference is 12 percent (Hong & Hee, 1994). At the other extreme, there is a significant proproportion (23 percent) of the Asian Pacific American population without a high school education, compared with 21 percent of non-hispanic whites in this category

Some of the available data suggest that the incidence and prevalence of disability may be much higher than current estimates. Disability is known to be related to occupation, education, and income. Some Asian Pacific groups are known to be more likely to be involved in service occupations and have lower than average income as well as lower earnings. The economic picture for Asian Pacific Americans may be counter to conventional wisdom, and one must look beyond what seems to be apparent at first glance.

The available data only provides a brief glimpse of what may be the reality -- a reality that may be poorly represented by existing data. The most obvious is the poor representation of Asian Pacific Americans resulting from aggregate reporting (Yu, 1993). Yang, Leung, Wang, and Shim (1994) suggest that a more in-depth examination of rehabilitation data is necessary if a real understanding of disability is to occur for the Asian Pacific population. Disaggregating data points to differences not readily apparent when only the aggregate category is reported.

What About Asian Pacific

Americans and the

Rehabilitation Process?

Asian Pacific Americans may avoid programs because they do not feel comfortable in them, are not aware of them, or because these programs have not been culturally appropriate. Especially for new immigrants who use English as a second language or whose cultural practices are foreign to mainstream counselors, vocational rehabilitation may be a difficult step to take. When family support systems, values, and religion are ignored, potential benefits are not apparent and the individuals and/or their families may be unwilling to follow through. The traditional U.S. emphasis on independence and self-sufficiency, while not necessarily in opposition to an Asian approach, may need detailed description and explanation. Expectations may not be similar to those espoused by the VR program. And in situations where Asian Pacific Americans have been openly discriminated against, the fear of working with strangers is very real.

As rehabilitation counselors may have discouraged persons with disabilities from seeking to enter certain occupations, based upon stereotyped ideas of what persons with specific disabilities can do, so also may Asian Pacific American participants with disabilities often be persuaded that certain choices may be more suitable. Computer and math proficiency and occupations requiring less English and people skills may be encouraged rather than the choice of work which may be of interest to the individual. Rehabilitation counselors working with culturally different consumers must be willing to set aside some of their own beliefs and stereotypes to allow for true choice and decision making.

Attention to Asian values -- but within the context of American society -- may be important. Asian Pacific Americans even of second or third generations have been influenced to some extent by the beliefs and values of their parents, no matter how acculturated they may have become. Their values and their identities represent a combination and mixture which are no longer fully Asian. Adoption of American value systems does not mean that their Asian background is not important. The influences of expectations of family and self continue to have major impact. Personality that fits stereotypic perceptions, such as being quiet or unobtrusive, may be reinforced by the majority; in fact, behaviors which do not fit are discouraged and are seen by the majority as threatening and aberrant.

What are Asian Pacific

American Attitudes Towards


While attitudes towards disabilities differ and vary greatly among individuals and cultures and are not always reflective of their country of origin, Asian Pacific Americans generally have less favorable attitudes toward disability than the majority population and some other ethnic minority populations. For example, the Chinese word or character for disability implies that a person is useless and crippled. This is hardly a positive perception. Even Asian Pacific Americans several generations removed from initial immigration continue to be influenced by these negative attitudes. Paris (1993) found that ethnicity is related to attitudes toward people with disabilities. She found that Asians generally had the least positive attitudes, even when healthcare professionals are the subjects of the research (Paris, 199-3). The influence of long-held beliefs continue to have impact on Asian Pacific Americans.

Because of the often interpreted perception that disability exists because of what one did in a previous life and that it may bring about shame to the family, families with members who have disabilities may attempt to keep them in the background and not call attention to their different needs. Given the emphasis on trying to succeed, many immigrant families do not want to place themselves in jeopardy by identification of different or unique needs. Individuals with disabilities may not be seen as positive, but the bonds of family remain as a source of support. The role of families and the interdependence which is a hallmark of Asian culture and, by extension, Asian Pacific Americans, suggests a strength not often found in an individualistic oriented society.


Section 21 promises to bring about a new era of responsiveness within the VR system to the unique needs of the many ethnic populations. Attention to cultural influence on understanding of disability and rehabilitation will bring innovative models that take into account the profusion of influences on the individual with disability and his/ her family who are from minority ethnic populations. The response of vocational rehabilitation win come from the needs of the individual and no longer from stereotypes and limited information. The final outcome will be that all Americans with disabilities will be better served.

Census Bureau Reports Large Increase in

Number of Asian, Pacific Islander, American

Indian, and Alaska Native Businesses

The number of businesses owned by Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives in the United States increased 61 percent from 439,271 in 1987 to 705,672 in 1992, according to a report released recently by the Commerce Department's Census Bureau. This compares to a rate increase of 26 percent for all U.S. firms, from 13.7 million in 1987 to 17.3 million in 1992.

According to The 1992 Survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises -- Asians and Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives (MB92-3), receipts for these minority-owned businesses increased by 159 percent during this 5-year span, from $40 billion to $104 billion. In comparison, receipts for all U.S. firms grew 67 percent, fro m$2.0 to $3.3 trillion.

The number of businesses owned by Asians and Pacific Islanders increased 56 percent over this 5-year period from 386,291 to 603,439, while receipts increased 163 percent from $36.5 to $96.0 billion.

The number of American Indian- and Alaska Native-owned businesses increased 93 percent from 52,980 in 1987 to 102,234 in 1992. Receipts for these businesses increased by 115 percent fro m$3.7 to $8.1 billion.

Due to sampling methodology, detailed estimates are not available for all the minority-owned firms in the survey. Therefore, the following statistics cover 606,438 of the total number (705,672) of businesses reported in the survey.

Receipts per firm averaged $165,000 for firms owned by members of these four minority groups, compared with $193,000 for all U.S. firms. Thirty-five percent or 212,928 of these firms had sales of $1.0 million or more.

The survey also shows that the 22 percent (136,000 firms) of Asean-, Pacific Islander-, American Indian-, and Alaska Native-owned firms with paid employees accounted for 81 percent of gross receipts of these minority-owned firms. Of these firms, 705 had 100 or more employees and accounted for $17.9 billion in receipts.

The service industries accounted for 45 percent of the businesses owned by Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives but only 26 percent of gross receipts. The retail trade industry accounted for the next largest concentration of these minority-owned firms at 22 percent of the firms and 29 percent of the receipts.

Approximately 83 percent of these firms were sole proprietorships in 1992. Partnerships and subchapter S corporations comprised 8 and 9 percent, respectively. (A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business owned by an individual; a partnership is an unincorporated business owned by two or more persons; and a subchapter S corporation is an unincorporated business with 35 or fewer shareholders.)

Three states -- California, New York, and Texas -- accounted for 55 percent of the firms owned by Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives.

Hawaii had the highest percentage of firms owned by members of these minority groups at 49 percent; 44 percent of the receipts in the state were from these minority-owned businesses. California ranked second with 10 percent of all firms and 9 percent of all receipts. Alaska was third with 7 percent of all firms and 5 percent of all receipts.


[1.] Atkins, B.J. (1994). Cultural diversity initiative at work in state agencies, Projects with Industries Forum 11 (2) 1.

[2.] Atkins, B.J., & Wright, G.N. (1980). Vocational rehabilitation of blacks, Journal of Rehabilitation 46 (2), 40-44.

[3.] Dziekan K.I., & Okocha, A.A. (1993). Accessibility of rehabilitation services: comparison by racial-ethnic status, Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin 36 (4) 183-189.

[4.] General Accounting Office (1993). Vocational Rehabilitation: Evidence for Federal Program's Effectiveness is Mixed, GAO/PEMD-93-19, Washington, DC.

[5.] McNeil, J.M. (1993). Americans with Disabilities: 1991-92, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Washington, DC.

[6.] Ong, P., & Hee, S.J. (1994). Economic diversity. In P Ong (Ed.), Economic Diversity, Issues and Policies, LEAP and UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Los Angeles, CA 31-56.

[7.] Paris, M.J. (1993). Attitudes of medical students and healthcare professionals towards people with disabilities, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 74 (3) 818-825.

[8.] Ross, M.G., & Biggi, I.M. (1986). Critical vocational rehabilitation service delivery issues. In Equal to the Challenge.

[9.] S. Walker (Ed.), Howard University, Washington DC 39-50.

[10.] Wright, L. (1994) One drop of blood, New Yorker, July 25,1994,46-55.

[11.] Yang, H., Leung, P., Wang, J., & Shim, N. (1994). Asian pacific americans: the need for ethnicity specific disability and rehabilitation data, in review Journal of Disability Policy Studies.

[12.] Ying, Y. (1994). Southeast Asian Refugee Mental Health, paper presented at Asian American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA, August.
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Title Annotation:includes related information
Author:Leung, Paul
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Mar 22, 1996
Previous Article:Developing a VR program on the Tohono O'Odham reservation.
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